In its latest attempt at reinvention, Cadillac has created a trio of admirable sedans—the ATS, CTS, and CT6—cars that challenge or beat the competition on their own terms, and do so with audacious exterior styling rendered in a distinctly American idiom. But American customers have been ditching cars in favor of high-riding crossovers, and what Cadillac has not had up until recently is a suite of appropriately (or bizarrely) sized crossovers to offer potential consumers, something competitors have been deploying for years or even decades. And so the new, full-size(ish) three-row Cadillac XT6, unveiled officially last week at an event in Detroit, is intended to help address the premier domestic automotive luxury brand’s current product shortcomings.
“I guess we had so many priorities and had to decide what’s the most important thing,” says Andrew Smith, Cadillac’s executive director of design. “We decided to approach this one from an interior perspective, to do things like provide ease of use for owners, upgrade the infotainment, and allow time for ourselves to learn lessons from the launch of XT4.”
The XT6 doesn’t exactly break any new ground within the segment, but that’s not necessarily a criticism. Though huge from a sales perspective, the two-box crossover category is not the industry’s leader in beauty or innovation. Still, Caddy’s most recent previous crossover, the size-Small XT4, managed to create handsome proportions and a premium appearance at first glance. The XT6 doesn’t feel quite so ambitious or coherent, with a front end that is at once sneering and soft, a lengthy flank that feints at muscularity without delivering, and a rather abrupt tailgate that blends the rectilinear and the anodyne. Maybe consumers won’t notice?
“Our biggest challenge was giving the vehicle a character that works on this scale and platform,” says Smith. “We want to make sure all of our cars feel different. We didn’t want it to be a mini Escalade. No one wants a mini anything. But we wanted to give it Escalade presence, but in scale. So it’s this combination of nice, and aggressive. I’m convinced we will sell more than we think we’ll sell.”
Maybe he’s right, and we definitely don’t see this vehicle cannibalizing sales of the Escalade. People who want a bold Cadillac can still get that one, and will have a brand new option later this year, we expect, when a new Escalade is released.
The car’s interior has a similarly dissonant feel to it, bifurcated between successful and less successful design traits. The packaging is quite clever. Working from the short-bus version of GM’s three-row crossover platform that underpins the GMC Acadia, instead of the nine-inch longer one beneath the Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse, Cadillac designers still managed to carve out comfortable space for six or seven humans (depending on whether one opts for the three-across bench or pair of captain’s chairs in the second row.) The formal roofline of the XT6 bears much of the responsibility. Instead of collapsing down toward the rear under the pretense of being a stylish “coupe” like so many other vehicles in the category, it remains high all the way back, providing a head-raising lift for passengers relegated to the way-back.
“We came back from all the market research we did, and we realized that we are developing plenty of SUVs. Each must have a clear role,” says Smith. “By pushing up the roof and pushing out the track, we could maximize interior space, and allow us to make sure the size was right for easy entry and exit to the third row. This is what the customer is looking for in this segment. Internally, we defined the customer as a woman who is CEO of everything.”
Sadly, the interior is a bit lackluster, like that of the XT4 and most other recent Cadillacs. And especially vis-à-vis the competition, particularly on the base models without thousands of dollars in optional material upgrades. The dizzying business of some of the brand’s previous mashup missteps has been banished—no longer is one able to count seven different textures in a single region of the dash. But the quality and execution feels almost parsimonious in places, and not even up to the premium quality of the brand’s current but outdated flagship, the Escalade. A Cadillac should be all about sybaritic delight in touch and experience. This one feels almost synthetic, especially at the mid-to-high five-figure base price point that seems logical to the brand’s current pricing strategy.
“We tried to upgrade things that the customer cares about, so we have semi-aniline leather available even in the third row, milled aluminum speaker grilles, engineered wood which is laser cut and jigsawed back together, and an hombre effect in the carbon fiber trim. We tried to focus on real quality, not just cut and sew,” says Smith. “But I don’t mind you guys criticizing this. That helps me and us to be better.”